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#1
Old 10-28-2003, 03:02 PM
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What's the truth about France's surrender in WW2?

After years of bashing the French for sport, I figure it's time to settle down and look at the facts regarding their surrender.
Big of me, I know. What are the facts regarding the size/strength of the forces that were being deployed to defend France vs. the German forces? Did France make an necessary, if unpleasant, decision? Why, when so many other countries were overrun within days, did France get such a bad rap?
#2
Old 10-28-2003, 04:22 PM
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Until the real experts get here this is my take on it.

The french got a bad rap because, well, they deserved it. They fell victim to the same plan the germans had used in WW1 (not exactly the same but similar), a right hook trhough belgium. It very nearly worked in WW1, the french and british just managing to stop them in time. Allied to the greater mobility available to the Germans in WW2 I could never understand how the french ignored the possibility that the Germans might try it again.

The french also had more, and better tanks than the Germans had, they just failed to utilise them properly. They deployed their tanks in 1's and 2's letting the germans obtain local superiority.

Last, but by no means least, they gave up. Fighting to the last man just wasnt their style. The Old Guard must have been rolling in their graves.
#3
Old 10-28-2003, 04:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by bryanmaguire
Until the real experts get here this is my take on it.

The french got a bad rap because, well, they deserved it. They fell victim to the same plan the germans had used in WW1 (not exactly the same but similar), a right hook trhough belgium. I could never understand how the french ignored the possibility that the Germans might try it again.
Someone can correct me if I am wrong, but I don't think that is quite true. In WWI, the German's did what you say, a swinging advance through the low countries. In WWII, I believe they feinted that way, but sent their main force further south, through the Argonne Forest, which France thought could not be gotten through by a large army with tanks and support vehicles. The French (and British) had sent much of their armies north to stop the supposed invasion through Belgium. When the German's main force got through, they had split the armies from the rest of the country, and had a pretty clear road to Paris.

It can certainly be debated that the spirit of defeatism at the time caused the French to be unprepared and surrender way too early, and other such arguments, but I think it is unfair to say they were fooled by the same trick as in WWI.

Brad
#4
Old 10-28-2003, 04:56 PM
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Gotta love the Onions' take on it:

Quote:
French to invading Germans:

We left your rooms just the way you like them!
#5
Old 10-28-2003, 05:01 PM
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Here's my admittedly non-expert take on this. Beware that a little knowledge is sometimes worse than none at all.

The French didn't extend the Maginot Line along the frontier with Belgium for several reasons. First, politically it was difficult to be in a position where they essentially would be telling the world that they expected the Germans to overwhelm Belgium and that they, the French, were not going to do squat to help them. Second, the military strategists of the day simply didn't expect that the Germans could overwhelm Belgium and flank the French line so quickly that the French troops couldn't adjust. This is the common military problem of fighting the LAST war. Extending the Maginot Line that far would have been expensive, and considering the political and military situation it just didn't seem worth it. In retrospect this was wrong, but it's easy to say that now.

None of this has anything to do with the valor or lack thereof of the common French soldier. Basically the French were out-generaled, with the French (and, it must be said, everybody else) simply failing to understand Blitzkrieg until it was too late. Whether the French would have accomplished anything by "fighting to the last man," I don't know, but keep in mind that when the fortunes of war eventually turned, the Germans and Japanese didn't either, even though they did put up considerably more resistance.
#6
Old 10-28-2003, 05:20 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by bradthomas
Someone can correct me if I am wrong, but I don't think that is quite true. In WWI, the German's did what you say, a swinging advance through the low countries. In WWII, I believe they feinted that way, but sent their main force further south, through the Argonne Forest, which France thought could not be gotten through by a large army with tanks and support vehicles. The French (and British) had sent much of their armies north to stop the supposed invasion through Belgium. When the German's main force got through, they had split the armies from the rest of the country, and had a pretty clear road to Paris.

It can certainly be debated that the spirit of defeatism at the time caused the French to be unprepared and surrender way too early, and other such arguments, but I think it is unfair to say they were fooled by the same trick as in WWI.

Brad
YOu could be right Brad. I always they that feinted to the center and outflanked them on the right through Belgium.
#7
Old 10-28-2003, 05:41 PM
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The History Channel "Modern Marvels" segment on Panzers from sometime within the last week said that even though the French had more and better tanks than the Germans at the start of the war, they were scattered all throughout the country. The Germans, on the other hand, gathered a huge amount of armor into a very tightly concentrated area, a new tactic at that time, and by virtue of this focus swept away all opposition.
#8
Old 10-28-2003, 06:03 PM
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It should also be mentioned that the French went into WWII with a spirit of defeatism..the French Communist Party worked feverishly to destroy French morale. In fact, they (the Communists) were actively telling the soldiers NOT TO FIGHT!
Second, the French military leadership was superannuated-the C-in-C (General Gamelin) was 75 years old! I cannot believe that the French couldnot have had a younger general-Gamelin might have been OK in 1918, but in 1940 he was outclassed.
Finally, the point about French armor is correct-the French tanks were actually technically better than the German, but they were not employed properly.
It all added up to a massive French defeat.
#9
Old 10-28-2003, 06:16 PM
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See if your library has the 196X BBC series The World at War. I found it to be pretty darn enlightening.
#10
Old 10-28-2003, 06:25 PM
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What has been told about tanks is accurate. More generally, the french commanders expected a position war, not a ovement war. It's obvious in the case of tanks, which were scaterred and considered as infantery support weapons. There was extremely few (perhaps only a couple) armored regiments. And even them were more of an experiment and weren't really prepared to operate in large armored units.

Another less well known example of France not being prepared to fight a movement war is that the french army didn't use radios for communications (because these communications could have been intercepted) but instead relied on phone lines, which were considered safer. The result, of course, being that as soon as the germans had bypassed the french lines (and cut the phone lines), or even as soon as a french unit had moved, there weren't any communication with the headquarters, and the officers in command had no clue about what was actually happening on the front line, and were unable to issue orders.
#11
Old 10-28-2003, 06:44 PM
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Re: What's the truth about France's surrender in WW2?

Quote:
Originally posted by KidCharlemagne
Did France make an necessary, if unpleasant, decision?

When France surrendered, most of the country was already occupied, and the panzers regiments were running unopposed towards what was still under french control. It was a matter of days before the whole country would be under german control, except for a couple pockets (Britanny and north-eastern france).
So the choice wasn't about going on fighting in France, but between :

1) Asking for an armistice or peace conditions

2) Not doing so and forming a government in exile in the french colonies or in the UK (Churchill even proposed a common franco-british government). In the latter case, the french colonies and more importantly the french fleet (and whatever was left of the french airforce) could have been useful to fight the war against Germany.

I would note that making this latter choice (which was supported by De Gaulle, but apparently also by the french prime minister, but he resigned on the same day) was a bet on the UK not asking for/ not accepting peace terms following the collapse of France (which wasn't obvious) and being able to eventually win the war against Germany essentially single-handely (which was even more doubtful).
#12
Old 10-28-2003, 06:44 PM
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There was some definite incompetence on the part of the French in 1940. For example, the French air force was woefully ill-equipped for contemporary combat, lacking a decent communications system and efficient delivery of spare parts.

However, the French didn't give up easily, even though they collapsed quickly. I read somewhere that the Wehrmacht suffered more casualties after the fall of Dunkirk--about the halfway point of the campaign--than it did up to that point. The Luftwaffe took losses more serious than that of the RAF, which helped them to survive the Battle of Britain. And, if one can find a touch of humor in the tragedy that was the expansion of fascism, the French utterly humiliated the Italians before finally conceding defeat.

One way to look at it is to compare France to any other force which faced the Germans in 1939-41. Geographically speaking, France held out about as long or longer than the similarly-sized Poland or Yugoslavia/Greece, and the Soviet Union conceded an enormous chunk of its European territory and troops by the seven-week mark of Operation Barbarossa (but they, unlike France, had lots of both to spare). Nobody got close to defeating the Germans, although the Soviets did eventually manage to stop them.

The German armed forces of that period simply had better communications, better tactics, more experience, and possibly better leadership than any force which had to oppose them on the ground. And just as had happened in the Great War, the Germans largely maintained that edge until they were logistically overwhelmed.

Oh, and one last note: the original German plan for France and the Low Countries was a modification of the Schleiffen Plan of WWI. However, those plans were lost behind enemy lines (intentionally or, as Guderian maintained, otherwise) and the only other detailed plan the Germans had was that conceived by General Manstein. It looks similar to the Schleiffen Plan on paper but which in fact placed the main line of attack (the schwerpunkt) through the Ardennes forest, rather than Belgium.
#13
Old 10-28-2003, 06:54 PM
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Re: Re: What's the truth about France's surrender in WW2?

Quote:
Originally posted by clairobscur

So the choice wasn't about going on fighting in France, but between :

1) Asking for an armistice or peace conditions

2) Not doing so and forming a government in exile in the french colonies or in the UK (Churchill even proposed a common franco-british government). In the latter case, the french colonies and more importantly the french fleet (and whatever was left of the french airforce) could have been useful to fight the war against Germany.




Ok, this is more to the point I think. Regardless of how poorly they managed/prepared for the war it was the choice for option 1 over 2 that gave them the coward rap, correct? What would have been the downside to option 2, the destruction of Paris?
#14
Old 10-28-2003, 07:54 PM
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Re: Re: Re: What's the truth about France's surrender in WW2?

Quote:
Originally posted by KidCharlemagne


Ok, this is more to the point I think. Regardless of how poorly they managed/prepared for the war it was the choice for option 1 over 2 that gave them the coward rap, correct? What would have been the downside to option 2, the destruction of Paris? [/B]


Nope. At this point, Paris was already occupied and intact (It had been declared an "open city") and the germans were way south of it. The french government had fled to the south-western port of Bordeaux which was some days away from the german advance (after a failed last attempt to organize a defensive line along the Loire river).


The downsides would have been :

1)France would have been a fully occupied country rather than retaining some sovereignty as long as the war lasted

2) The peace conditions could have been harsher for France once the UK would have made peace with Germany (and France left alone with nothing else beside its african colonies).

3) Less important at first glance but significant for some decision-makers (in particular the new commander-in-chief Weygand), the french prisonners would have been held in captivity, along with the soldiers belonging to armies which were surrounded and doomed (in north-eastern France in particular). Weygand was opposed to a military capitulation, mainly for this reason (even more prisonners) and wanted the politics to ask for an armistice.



More generally, France would have had essentially no say in the outcome, and had to rely on the UK being willing (or not) to pursue the war and Germany being willing (or not) to grant bearable peace terms.


By the way, some politicians, in particular the minister Mandel (to whom Churchil had proposed to be the head of a french government in exile. It's quite well-known he wasn't exactly happy with De Gaulle, who anyway was a very minor figure), refused, out of principle, to leave France while it was occupied, considering it was a shameful and coward action (he would be executed latter in the war by the Vichy para-military militia). For similar reasons, a delegation of members of the parliament convinced the french president Lebrun (who anyway had zero actual power and was only a symbolical figure) not to leave France to North-Africa as he intended to do.



Finally, though this is essentially a technical point, France and the UK had signed a treaty earlier in the war by which they agreed not to unilaterally ask for peace. Hence, france asking for surender terms was in direct breach of this treaty.
#15
Old 10-28-2003, 09:19 PM
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I watched a special on the History Channel about the France's surrender, and it pretty much focused on the Marginot line. The original part of the line was built during economic prosperity, and enough funds could be put towards building a strongly reinforced wall. The problem was, the economy took a downturn and money to build extensions of the line became slim. Unemployment became a large problem, and citizens were sent to the southern extension of the wall, which was being built. These southerly sections only covered the likely entry points that invading Germans might take, but were not as well reinforced as the northerly part of the line. France also counted on Belguim to not allow German troops through their land, but when they decided upon neutrality and allowed German troops to mobilize inside their border, the French were left with a wholly unprotected border. The Germans easily circumvented the wall and attacked it from the rear--where it was very weakly reinforced. The French, facing immense casualties and likely defeat surrendered to the invading German forces. This is all off the top of my head, so anyone more knowledgeable can feel free to correct any errors in my statement.
#16
Old 10-28-2003, 09:38 PM
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Some of the WWII French-bashing has nothing to do with their surrender, but actions of some French people thereafter, who welcomed the Germans with open arms and handed over their Jews.

I must add that yes, there was the French Resistance as well, of course. But the Vichy government and many, many collaborators gave the French a bad name for awhile.
#17
Old 10-28-2003, 09:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Apex Rogers
[B]The problem was, the economy took a downturn and money to build extensions of the line became slim.
Beside the cost, the extension of the line along the Belgian border was a diplomatic no-no, as already mentionned in this thread, since it would have meant that the french could have chosen to stay behind the fortified line rather than actually fight in Belgium if this country was invaded by Germany.



Quote:
Unemployment became a large problem, and citizens were sent to the southern extension of the wall, which was being built. These southerly sections only covered the likely entry points that invading Germans might take, but were not as well reinforced as the northerly part of the line.
More likely, you're refering to the western extension, rather than southern. Indeed, defensive strongpoints had been build beside the Maginot line, but they weren't at all in the same league. mostly plain bunkers built, as you stated in likely entry points.



Quote:
France also counted on Belguim to not allow German troops through their land, but when they decided upon neutrality and allowed German troops to mobilize inside their border, the French were left with a wholly unprotected border.
Belgium was already a neutral country before the war, AFAIK. Anyway, the Maginot line goal was essentially reached, even without extending it along the Belgian border, since it made necessary for the German to attack through Belgium, hence allowing France and the UK to mass their troops there rather than spreading there along the boundary from Switzerland to the Channel



Quote:
The Germans easily circumvented the wall and attacked it from the rear--where it was very weakly reinforced.
Not really. The germans turned westward and encircled the french army and the BEF which had rushed into Belgium and displayed a total unability to retreat from there in time. There has been very few attacks against the Maginot line, be it from the front or from the rear, and not very successful anyway. The maginot line was essentially untouched when france surrendered. Roughly, the Germans just ignored it.
#18
Old 10-28-2003, 10:38 PM
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By the way, the Maginot line wasn't a wall, but an extensive network of very modern (for this time) and large strongpoints. Think bunkers connected by galleries, equipped with the best artillery available, with deeply buried reserves, ammunitions stockpiles, etc... intended to be able to sustain massive attacks for a long time.

You can see many pictures and some explanations in english about one of this strongpoint in this page. Installations in the inside in particular I find pretty impressive and modern-looking for this time and era.
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Old 10-28-2003, 10:44 PM
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It seems I can't post a direct link to the exact page I was refering to on this site. You must click on "- The fortress Schoenenbourg" part. Though the rest is probably interesting too.
#20
Old 10-28-2003, 11:05 PM
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Because I have an unreasoning prejudice against getting historical analysis from web sites and television programs (in the same way I don't like to get my daily news from USA Today) let me refer you to an honest to goodness book. Try Alistair Horne's To Lose a Battle, Penguin Paperback, and John Keegan's History of the Second World War. Both should be readily available at any good library or any chain bookstore, e.g.Barnes and Noble or Borderers. Both are very readable although Keegan's love affair with the subordinate clause means that you occasionally have to diagram a sentence to make sense of it.

A crude summary is that France had any number of problems including a lack of political unity, a misplaced reliance on fortresses and strong points, a complete failure to understand the potential of armored vehicles, and a reliance on a continuous front. In other words, France had not recovered from the first war and was prepared to fight the first war all over again. The political disorder had a lot to do with the conservative ascendency during and after WWI and a political system rigged to keep it that way. The general feeling that it is a rich man's war and a poor man's fight was very strong in France, not without reason.
#21
Old 10-28-2003, 11:16 PM
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Interesting read for all those who think French are cowards:
http://exile.ru/175/175052003.html
#22
Old 10-29-2003, 12:28 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Micro Furry
The Germans, on the other hand, gathered a huge amount of armor into a very tightly concentrated area, a new tactic at that time,
new tactic?

Isn't that why Hannibal snuck over the mountains with his elephants? Or what Alexander the Great used to defeat the vast Persian armies? Or why Pharoe's chariots could be caught and drowned in the Red Sea?

Sorry, but I'd say gathering your strength into a tightly concentrated area has been a common military tactic since the beginning or recorded history. The WWII French high command was just pretty incompetant in general.
#23
Old 10-29-2003, 01:25 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by [email protected]
new tactic?

Isn't that why Hannibal snuck over the mountains with his elephants? Or what Alexander the Great used to defeat the vast Persian armies? Or why Pharoe's chariots could be caught and drowned in the Red Sea?

Sorry, but I'd say gathering your strength into a tightly concentrated area has been a common military tactic since the beginning or recorded history. The WWII French high command was just pretty incompetant in general.
Wow. I didn't know Hannibal had tanks.

I see your point and it's valid: put the best offensive weapon you have in a group and the group is almost unstoppable. That's why calvary was so important in battles before the invention of the gun; it's apparently hard to knock the rider off of a moving horse when he's swinging an ax at you.

But remember, concentrating your assets has its drawbacks. Look at what happened at Pearl Harbor where ships and planes were docked/parked close to each other to conserve room (I do, however, remember reading somewhere that one officer moved the planes close together for asthetic reasons, but that's a very fuzzy recollection): they were much easier targets for a large bombing. All it would have taken for France to stop the tanks, then, is a large air-raid.

Also, tanks were still relatively new at the start of World War 2. They had only made appearances in one previous war, and even then I dont' believe they were tightly compacted into a single force. As was said, I'm pretty sure they were regarded as very nifty and easily movable artillery.

--greenphan
#24
Old 10-29-2003, 03:05 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Spavined Gelding
...Try Alistair Horne's To Lose a Battle, Penguin Paperback,
I second this suggestion, it's a great book. The best account of the fall of France that I've ever read.

Horne also wrote good accounts of the Battles of Sedan (Franco-Prussian War) and Verdun (WWI). Together these three books are a fantastic account of three of France's most importnant battles.
#25
Old 10-29-2003, 05:31 AM
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Eve and S Gelding touched on a very important (and often overlooked) point.

The French political context was pretty charged at the time. The country was deeply divided along class lines, urban versus rural, ethnic divide etc. Many amongst the ruling classes of Europe were sympathetic to Hitler's politics, and very afraid of communism. Not exactly a "fight to the last man" climate.

I'd also have to agree with those who say that France's shame (such as it is) stems from the nation's conduct during the occupation rather than the initial surrender. French casualties during the fighting were substantial (greater than US for the whole war I believe) - so military honor was 'saved'. However, during the occupation many groups collaborated with the Nazis to further their own agendas (or self interest) - anti-communist, anti-semite etc. For many Hitler seemed the lesser of two evils, stemming the spread of communism.

The European resistance movement largely coalesced around communist (and socialist) groups who also felt they had been betrayed by the traditional ruling castes of their own countries.
#26
Old 10-29-2003, 07:24 AM
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The decision to not fortify the French-Belgian border did make some sense. The diea was that the Maginot Line would force the Germans to invade via Belgium (true) and the French would advance inot Belgium to fight the Germans (also true). It made no sense to spend billions building a defensive formation you didn't plan on using.

The mistake the French (along with the Belgians and the British) made was to assume the Germans would be unable to support an attack through the Ardennes forest. So the French left the defense of this area to relatively weak forces. The Germans attacked this weak spot successfully and cut behind French lines, surrounding the advancing French army.

The French did have the means to continue fighting. It probably was too late to save Paris, but there were enough troops to form a defensive line in southern France.

One problem was that the French military command was extremely conservative and hated the French government which at the time was extremely liberal. The French Generals apparently decided it wasn't worth fighting for a political regime they didn't like.

Others have mentioned France's record during the occupation. It was shameful. Since the German defeat, France has promoted the idea that all of France was behind deGaulle and the Resistance. But during the war, there was substantial support for the Vichy government, which in turn supported Germany. This included substantial numbers of French soldiers who voluntarily fought for Germany on the Eastern front.
#27
Old 10-29-2003, 07:58 AM
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Re: What's the truth about France's surrender in WW2?

Quote:
Originally posted by KidCharlemagne
What are the facts regarding the size/strength of the forces that were being deployed to defend France vs. the German forces?
In May 1940, Germany fielded around 140 divisions, 10 of them armoured, the rest infantry.
The allies had around the same number: around 95 French, 10 British, 22 Belgian, 8 Dutch. The French had 3 proper armoured divisions (DCRs) and 8 others that were mixed cavalry/armour (DLMs and DLCs).
More info here: France 1940.

So the forces were evenly matched in numbers, but as other posters above have made clear, the Germans achieved a decisive result because of better planning, leadership, concentration of force, communications, etc.

Also, on the cowardice issue: 110,000 French soldiers were among those evacuated from Dunkirk. Almost all of them immediately caught boats back to ports in western France to continue the fight. Hardly the action of cowards.
#28
Old 10-29-2003, 08:24 AM
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Regarding The French Airforce

The "armee de l'air"-it was commanded by General Joseph Vuillemin (who had been a combat ace in WWI). He went to Germany in 1936, at the invitation of Goering..and returned, thoroughly frightened. Apparently, Goering's Luftwaffe put on a good show for him, and convince the general that the Luftwaffe was invincible. Yet, the fact remains, the French planes were not grossly inferior to the German..and, the fact remains, at the time of the surrender, France had plenty of aircraft in reserve-why these were not deployed is a mystery.
My belief is that the Communist party had much to do with the collapse of French morale..and the French high command certainly was not immune to it.
#29
Old 10-29-2003, 08:27 AM
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A discussion about airpower is needed here.

In addition to being technologically obsolete, France's Air Force had no strategic concept for defense.

They understood air tactics--what to do with individual aircraft to win dogfights, how to uses groups of aircraft to defeat other groups, yes.

But the idea of controling your airspace, and creating a central organization to coordinate this effort, was completelt lacking in France.

In contrast, Great Britain had a central Fighter Command, with a large map room displaying all of Southern England. When radar detected intruder aircraft, markers were placed on the board, & moved around to track enemy planes based on recieved updates. Nearby squadrons were vectored to intercept, & others were held in reserve. Resources were allocated to meet the demand.

No such central control existed in France. Each unit was essentially on it's own, and expected to defend it's area. Some fighter units never even saw combat, as they spent their time on the ground, & weren't sent outside their area. Until the surrender, that is.
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#30
Old 10-29-2003, 08:52 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Little Nemo
The French did have the means to continue fighting. It probably was too late to save Paris, but there were enough troops to form a defensive line in southern France.


Definitely not, as I already pointed out. You should check a map of the military situation when France surrendered. I think this misconception comes from a wrong belief that france surrendered when (or even before) Paris was occupied.


As I already mentionned, an attempt was made to organize a defensive line along the Loire river, roughly 150 kilometers south of Paris, but totally failed. The german armies had already crossed it in several places while the commanders were still trying to arganize said defense line. They didn't even had the time to blow off all the bridges.


At the moment France surrendered, all of northern France was already occupied, except for the eastern part (where was situated the Maginot line) and Britanny. The german army was running unnoposed in south western france towards Bordeaux where the government had fled, and similarily along the Rhone river in south-eastern france towards the mediterranean sea.


The french troops in north-eastern france I was refering to were encircled and doomed. The bulk of the french army had been destroyed/routed/taken prisonner in Belgium, northern France and in the Dunkirk pocket. Whatever had managed to escape/be evacuated was totally disorganized, had lost all heavy (and often even light) armament and wasn't in any way in fighting order.


There was essentially nothing left from the french army, except for some reserves units garrisoned in southern towns, the foreign legion which had just been rapatriated from Norway where it was fighting, the part of the mountain troops which had not been hastily sent in the north when the campaign turned ugly (and anyway were already engaged by the Italian army), and some colonial units which were on their way when the campaign of France began.


The only possibility which was briefly envisionned was to try to defend Britanny (the peninsula at the extreme west of France), with british support as a possible bridgehead for a future counter-attack (which would have had to be done essentially by the british). This plan was dismissed out of hand by the Commander in Chief Weygand as totally unrealistic from a military point of view.

Once again, the only french military asset at this point was the navy, in which of course the british government had a high interest (a significant part of it would be sunk at anchor by the british navy in the north african port it had taken refuge in some days after the surrendering of France, upon the refusal of the admiral commanding it to either join the british navy or sunk his own ships)



Quote:
This included substantial numbers of French soldiers who voluntarily fought for Germany on the Eastern front.

Actually, these volunteers constitued a division-sized unit ("Division Charlemagne").

Most french people fighting on the eastern front where from the Alsace-Lorraine region which had been annexed by the reich, hence were considered as German citizens and drafted. The most unlucky amongst them actually fought the germans under french uniform, then the russians under german uniforms, and having been made prisonners and handed to the british, switched uniform once again to fight again the germans towards the end of the war.
#31
Old 10-29-2003, 09:12 AM
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[About French not realizing that concentrating their tanks was the way to go]
Quote:
Sorry, but I'd say gathering your strength into a tightly concentrated area has been a common military tactic since the beginning or recorded history.
Except that the lesson of WWI was that this is exactly the wrong thing to do at the level of individual soldiers. Concentrating your riflemen into a Napoleonic-style line just allowed them all to be wiped out at once by a couple of machine guns or artillery shells. And at the same level, the (not absolute, but general) trend as WWII went along in all armies was to distribute machine guns and spread them among all units, rather than concentrating them. So maybe the French army in WWII was fighting the last war, but it's not that there was a clear, universally applicable tactic they missed.
#32
Old 10-29-2003, 09:17 AM
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Re: Re: What's the truth about France's surrender in WW2?

Quote:
Originally posted by jinty
Also, on the cowardice issue: 110,000 French soldiers were among those evacuated from Dunkirk. Almost all of them immediately caught boats back to ports in western France to continue the fight. Hardly the action of cowards.


I must say that probably nobody asked their opinion about whether or not they were willing to go on fighting.


Anyway, as as just mentionned above, these evacuated units weren't in fighting order, since they didn't have any heavy armaments, ammunitions, vehicles, etc..left, were totally disorganized (it generally wasn't whole units in good order which were evacuated but usually whatever french soldiers happening to be on the shore when the british ships still had room for them once the brits had been evacuated...be it a whole company, a squad, individual soldiers, etc..), hence not at all in fighting order.
#33
Old 10-29-2003, 09:29 AM
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Re: Regarding The French Airforce

Quote:
Originally posted by ralph124c
Yet, the fact remains, the French planes were not grossly inferior to the German..and, the fact remains, at the time of the surrender, France had plenty of aircraft in reserve-why these were not deployed is a mystery.
I don't know whether the individual planes were inferior or not, but the french airforce as a whole definitely was. I understand that in airfights, french units were totally outclassed by the German airforce. Also, a large part of the airforce had been essentially sacrificed to help trying to stop the unexpected german attack in the Ardennes during the early days of the campaign, and even then proved to be quite unefficient for ground support and attack.

It also seems to me that the german army didn't lack AA weapons, contrarily to french units. But I'm not sure.



Quote:
My belief is that the Communist party had much to do with the collapse of French morale..and the French high command certainly was not immune to it.

The communist party definitely opposed the war following the Hitler-Stalin pact, and actually was forbidden. Though it was a relatively influential party at this time, I'm not convinced its stance played such a significant part. But it's a matter of opinion.
#34
Old 10-29-2003, 10:33 AM
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Its also worth pointing out that in addition to all the factors mentioned above that for about half of the campaign the French were heavily outnumbered by the Germans. The total allied coalition at the start of the campaign was roughly equivalent in size to the German force but this illusory situation didn't last. Holland surrended in 4 days, Belgium surrended in 18 days, the British evacuated themselves from Dunkirk at the end of May/beginning of June. And many of the best French formations were also destroyed in the early days. So for the last three weeks of the campaign the French fought alone against very heavy odds and with a sky controlled by the Luftwaffe. This "cowardly" army that according to the myth barely put up a fight, in reality lost over 100,000 men killed before it surrendered.
#35
Old 10-29-2003, 11:13 AM
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I have a question about the Ardennes..according to what I read, the French General Staff considered the possibility of a German advance (through the Ardennes)..and rejected it as impossible! WHAT were these guys smoking? I've been in the Ardennes..and they are NOT mountains! True, they are some steep hills and ravines, broken by rivers and streams..but there are roads. I cannot believe that the French didn't station a division or two in the Ardennes (equipped with 75 mm, artillery)-that would have stopped the German advance in its tracks!
#36
Old 10-29-2003, 11:15 AM
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What are you all graduates of West fricking Point? Remind me not to go to war with the Straight Dope. This is great information and I thank you for it. Would someone mind going into some more details about the post-surrender occupation, i.e., who "sold out" and in what capacity?
#37
Old 10-29-2003, 11:36 AM
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I believe, at the time, the Ardennes was a thick forest with no roads that would move a military size force. The French generals thought no one would want to hack their way through the "impassable" forest.
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#38
Old 10-29-2003, 12:29 PM
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With reference to the Ardennes, the French recognized that it was passible to troops, but considered that the terrain was difficult enough that it could easily be defended with a small force, such as an infantry division or two. They then apparently assumed that the Germans would also recognize this fact and would therefore not consider an attack through the Ardennes, as the actual defence assigned was IIRC a single mechanized cavalry regiment, which was totally inadequate to prevent the German attack. It was not so much a belief that the Ardennes was impassible as a failure to properly defend the area.

With reference to Dunkirk, the British did not "evacuate whatever french soldiers happening to be on the shore when the british ships still had room for them once the brits had been evacuated". Aproximately 200,000 British, 20,000 Belgian and 115,000 French soldiers were evacuated, with a number of French naval vessels included in the evacuation fleet. IIRC, most of the 115,000 French, however, chose to return to France rather than stay and join the Free French forces being organized under de Gaulle.
#39
Old 10-29-2003, 01:17 PM
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It wasn't just that the Ardennes presented formidable difficulties for the movement of armored forces, it was that the French seemed to think that they could prevent German infantry from crossing the Meuse at and around Sedan. The French certainly expected German infantry to show up around Sedan. What they almost certainly didn't expect was three panzer divisions with attached engineering battalions and closely coordinated air support to show up and force crossings there.

Even then the German high command nearly dropped the ball. They ordered the Panzer divisions around Sedan to halt until supporting infantry could be moved up. Guderian managed to gain approval for a "reconnaissance in force" which he very broadly interpreted, and used that advance to keep the French entirely off-balance.
#40
Old 10-29-2003, 01:29 PM
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A fairly thorough analysis of the German documents on the Sitzkrieg and the fall of France can be foun in Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. The German high command was astonished at the torpor of the Allies and likewise astonished at the speed of their defeat in France.
#41
Old 10-29-2003, 02:40 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by ralph124c
I have a question about the Ardennes..according to what I read, the French General Staff considered the possibility of a German advance (through the Ardennes)..and rejected it as impossible! WHAT were these guys smoking? I've been in the Ardennes..and they are NOT mountains! True, they are some steep hills and ravines, broken by rivers and streams..but there are roads. I cannot believe that the French didn't station a division or two in the Ardennes (equipped with 75 mm, artillery)-that would have stopped the German advance in its tracks!

It's not that the headquarters believed the Ardennes were impossible to cross. They just believed that it wasn't possible for a sizeable force to cross them quickly following narrow roads and launch a major attack in this area without letting time for the french army to react. And once again, the french commanders din't expect at all a "blitzkrieg". That for instance the german armored units would just ignore and bypass pockets of resistance and go on their merry way as quickly as possible.

Also, this part of the border had not been left totally undefended. But it was defended by reserve units of poor quality and poorly equiped, and without reserves backing them.




Beside, the allied expected the main attack to occur through Belgium and were awaiting for it. The Germans did launch an attack in Belgium, the french army and the BEF rushed in as planned. Everything seemed to happen as expected, except for the fact that the German attack (though a major one) was only a diversion move and the main thrust was intended to take place in the Ardennes. When it happened, the allied forces were caught in Belgium, had an extremely hard time trying to retreat (lack of motorized unit able to move quickly, poor logistics, roads clogged by refugees, etc..) hence were of no use until they were encircled. Actually many soldiers just marched north into Belgium, never met the ennemy, were ordered to march south back to France, and found themselves encircled without having even fought.


Once the germans had bypassed the french defense lines in the Ardennes area, there was esssentially nobody to stop them (no reserves, as I mentionned, and the bulk of the army in Belgium). Beside, the allied command still didn't know immediatly what were the german's intents, hence how to react. It could have been :

-Going east and attack the Maginot line from the rear

-Going south to take Paris

-Going west to cut the allied forces from mainland France (which they did), which wasn't necessarily the most likely scenario, since the commanders still didn't think that the german forces could move quickly enough to achieve such a feat.
#42
Old 10-29-2003, 03:26 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Bookkeeper
[B]With reference to the Ardennes, the French recognized that it was passible to troops, but considered that the terrain was difficult enough that it could easily be defended with a small force, such as an infantry division or two. They then apparently assumed that the Germans would also recognize this fact and would therefore not consider an attack through the Ardennes, as the actual defence assigned was IIRC a single mechanized cavalry regiment, which was totally inadequate to prevent the German attack. It was not so much a belief that the Ardennes was impassible as a failure to properly defend the area.
The regiment you're refering to was probably the only *mechanized* regiment, but the french forces in the area were larger than that. I googled while the hamsters were running, couldn't find an order of battle, but found references to french *divisions*. It seems to me (though I'm not sure at all) there was two of them, but plain infantry using their feet to move, without much in the way of artillery and utterly laccking AA guns.




Quote:
With reference to Dunkirk, the British did not "evacuate whatever french soldiers happening to be on the shore when the british ships still had room for them once the brits had been evacuated". Aproximately 200,000 British, 20,000 Belgian and 115,000 French soldiers were evacuated, with a number of French naval vessels included in the evacuation fleet.
Ok. I exagerated to convey a general idea of what was happening. Indeed, essentially anything in the area which was able to float and not a duck was used for the evacuation. But the british ships (not necessarily military vessels) did by far the largest part of the job. Not only there was much more british ships than french ones, but also they had a greater capacity. And AFAIK, they did evacuate in priority the british troops (which was logical...actually, while googling I found that there the french commanders had agreed to the french rearguard being evacuated last).

As for the "whatever french soldiers happening to be on the shore when the british ships still had room", this come from all the testimonies of french soldiers evacuated at Dunkirk I heard, and which were essentially all stating the same thing : that it was a total mess, not organized units waiting in good order to be evacuated, but a mass of mixed soldiers from unrelated units waiting on the shore and rushing towards the raft sent by the ships, but only after the british troopers present had been embarked. The units still organized were either sent south to defend the city of Lille, either used to defend the pocket of Dunkirk itself (I understand that would be the rear guard I was refering to above).



Quote:
IIRC, most of the 115,000 French, however, chose to return to France rather than stay and join the Free French forces being organized under de Gaulle.

I don't believe so. AFAIK and as already mentionned in this thread, essentially all the french soldiers evacuated from Dunkirk didn't stay in the UK but were shipped back to ports in southern France. Probably there were some who found themselves still strandled in the UK when France surrendered, but certainly a minority. And I do not doubt that few of these choose to join the free french forces rather than coming back home. I don't remember at all the figures, but the number of men who joined De Gaulle after he made his public call for resistance on the BBC on june 18 was ridiculously low. Ok. I found a figure : by July 1940, 3 300 men had joined De Gaulle : 2 000 in London, 400 from the navy, 300 in the Gold Coast and 600 in Egyptia (not sure what they were doing there).
#43
Old 10-29-2003, 04:32 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by clairobscur
It seems to me (though I'm not sure at all) there was two of them, but plain infantry using their feet to move, without much in the way of artillery and utterly laccking AA guns.
It looks like, at the Meuse crossing, at least, the French forces were the 55th and 71st Infantry Divisions of the 9th Army. The 9th Army, under General Corap, which was assigned to defend the Ardennes, was made up of 12 infantry and 4 horse cavalry divisions. It looks like there was also, nearby, General Huntziger's 2nd Army, which was assigned the area between the Maginot line and Pont-a-Bar.
#44
Old 10-29-2003, 04:33 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by KidCharlemagne
Would someone mind going into some more details about the post-surrender occupation, i.e., who "sold out" and in what capacity?
The French themselves are still arguing back and forth between the "we were all noble brave Resistance fight-airs!" camp and the "We rolled over for zee Nazis" camp.

One particular Frenchwoman, Coco Chanel, lived with a Nazi officer for much of the war, sold to Nazis' wives and mistresses, and kicked her Jewish partner out of the firm and co-opted his share of the business. She fled to Switzerland after the war to avoid prosecution as a collaborator, but came back in the mid-50s for a very successful revival of her career. She may be "Chanel" to some, but she'll always be "Nazi whore" to me.
#45
Old 10-29-2003, 04:35 PM
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(and I'm not sure if the 9th Army was made up of the 16 divisions, or if the 2nd and 9th Army combined were made up of 16 divisions)
#46
Old 10-29-2003, 05:05 PM
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Quote:
Definitely not, as I already pointed out. You should check a map of the military situation when France surrendered. I think this misconception comes from a wrong belief that france surrendered when (or even before) Paris was occupied.
I think you misunderstood what I posted.

The German attack began on May 10. It's hard to say precisely when the Belgian situation was irrevocably lost but by May 16 it was a clear defeat for the French and their allies. Paris fell on June 14. Petain aks for an armistice on June 17.

I'm not saying that the French could have turned the war around in the three days between the fall of Paris and the surrender. But in the four weeks between the loss of Belgium and the loss of France, there was an opportunity that was lost.
#47
Old 10-29-2003, 06:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Little Nemo
I'm not saying that the French could have turned the war around in the three days between the fall of Paris and the surrender. But in the four weeks between the loss of Belgium and the loss of France, there was an opportunity that was lost.



Ok. Indeed I misunderstood.


Well...What the allied tried to do after the german attack in the Aredennes on May 15 or so was to withdraw the armies from Belgium and northern France. They failed miserably. Dunkirk was on may 29.

Apparently, you're stating that meanwhile and during the two following weeks, the french commanders could have organized a defense line somewhere in southern France. I doubt it. After Dunkirk, there were battles here and there, but the the french were unable to maintain a continuous front, and as a result, the germans continued to advance at a steady pace.

I suppose that you're thinking that as soon as the germans entered through the Ardennes, the french commanders should have stated "let's forget about the larger part of the army in Belgium, they're toast anyway, and so is northern france" and should have concentrated their efforts on preparing such a continuous front somewhere in the south (for instance by moving the army which was defending the eastern boundary and the Maginoit line or somesuch). Or something similar.


I've very strong doubts because (just casting ideas as they come, I don't have thoroughly considered the issue) :

-I can't imagine the commanders not trying to save both the BEF and the bulk of the french army in Belgium in priority, nor not hoping that they could somehow block the german advance and use said british and french troops to do so.

-I'm not convinced that they actually had the means, without these armies, to organize such a defense line

-I suppose that the germans wouldn't have left them doing so. If french troops not stuck in Belgium had been withdrew from northern France, I assume that the germans would have attacked and pursued them. Instead of battles in for instance Champagne, there would have been battles in, say, Auvergne, against a withdrawing french army. In order to organize defense in the south, they necesserily needed to meanwhile keep the germans busy in the north. It's not like they could ask for a two or three weeks break, while the germans would stay idle.



-It would have been quite a desesperate move. Usually, commanders and politicians don't decide to just leave half the country including the capital, the largest industrial centers, etc.. to the ennemy with the vague hope that they could perhaps defend the rest before being totally certain that nothing else can be done (which is what happened with the attempt I already mentionned along the Loire river and was considered concerning Britanny).


-Finally, I can't see how it could have avoided a defeat. If the french army was trashed despite half of its boundaries being heavily forfitified, the rest being defended by the best troops available on prepared positions, the presence of the british expedionnary corps, the involvment of the Belgians, etc..., how could an improvised front in the middle of France could have resisted, especially with much less men (without the armies defeated in Belgium, and without the british since they refused to send back troops in France after said defeat), much less planes, etc..? Beside, the concept of position war had just totally failed, so why do you think it would have suceeded somewhere else in France?


Then, perhaps some military genius could have done such a thing. Perhaps Paris could have been transformed in a kind of Stalingrad. But we're in the realm of the "what if", and I'm not really interested in these, especially since I'm not a military buff, either. But it seems extremely implausible to me. Of course, it's just an opinion.


Finally, I wouldn't know whether Weygand was a good general or not (difficult to say, given the situation he inherited of), but in any case, I suspect he probably did the best he could, and most probably better than a random poster on the SDMB (no personnal offense intended) could have done. Given that he failed miserably in organizing a defensive front (which he tried to do), I suppose that at best, he could have failed a little less miserably or it could have taken a little longer for France to fall.
#48
Old 10-29-2003, 06:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by KidCharlemagne
Would someone mind going into some more details about the post-surrender occupation, i.e., who "sold out" and in what capacity?



That's a way too extensive question for me to even try to answer it. I wouldn't be qualified to do so, anyway. Very roughly and inacuratly, the typical politician/intelectual "sold out" would have belonged to the reactionnary, catholic and nationalist right wing. But you would have all the scale from the low-ranking civil servant only interested in making a good career to the overtly pro-nazi politician advocating a direct military involvment of France alongside Germany.



As for the most obvious culprit and his capacities, Petain was vice-prime minister, and had been appointed to this post during the campaign of France mainly as a PR move, since, though old, he was immensely popular and a symbol of the french victory in WWI.

He became "head of the French State" (that was his "title") when, upon the resignation of prime minister Reynaud, the french parliament "commited suicide" and granted Petain full powers to negociate a peace with Germany and to draft a new constitution, with some minimal conditions about what the content of said constitution should be. No constitution was ever written, and Petain just stayed "Head of the french state" with whatever powers he decided he had.


The second most obvious culprit was Pierre Laval, who was appointed "head of the government" twice by Petain. The first time in 1940 and the second time in 1942, with much extended powers (he was at the same time minister of the interior, of foreign affairs, and of something else I can't remember), and who, from this date, was the person actually in charge in Vichy France. He initiated a policy even more strongly collaborationnist (and antisemitic) than Petain previously, like for instance rounding up french Jews on the behalf of Germany, organizing a para-military "militia" which worked hand in hand with the gestapo, sending more french workers (mandatorily, not volunteers) in Germany to support their war effort, etc...
#49
Old 10-29-2003, 07:02 PM
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There's a pretty good documentary about the French Occuptation
The Sorrow and the Pity
It's worth checking out.
#50
Old 10-29-2003, 07:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Eve
She may be "Chanel" to some, but she'll always be "Nazi whore" to me.
That must be the origin of that perfume clone, Nazi Whore #5.


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